Joseph's Example of Fatherly Obedience
Father's Day was a couple of weeks ago. For most families, it is a day of grilling, going to the pool, and giving gifts. It is a day of celebration for the sacrifices a father has made to protect and provide for his family.
For others, it is a difficult day because it is a reminder of an absent father or a deceased father. Men who long to become fathers themselves might also feel a sense of pain on this day.
Relationships with earthly fathers are sometimes tricky.
My own father's sacrificial love, generous heart, and overwhelming support continually point me back to the even greater love of God. However, I know not everyone is as lucky.
Even though human fathers mess up, make mistakes, or fail to meet our expectations, our Heavenly Father never falters.
God also gives us a small glimpse of His love through some of the earthly fathers in the Bible.
Let’s face it. Joseph doesn’t get a lot of credit. He’s the earthly father of Jesus, but most people put him in their nativity scene at Christmas and leave him there. To be honest, I mostly thought of Joseph as an add-on scene extra, where the true stars of the show were pregnant Mary making the journey to Bethlehem and baby Jesus, born in a manager as the humble King.
It wasn’t until I re-read Matthew 1 and 2 that I started giving Joseph more credit. Before we get there, I need to give a little background on engagement protocol in Jewish culture at the time Mary became pregnant.
For the most part, an engagement was arranged by the parents when the future bride and groom were very young. Therefore, children were engaged. What we would consider an engagement season today was actually a betrothal period of about one year back then, and it was legally binding. Meaning, this one-year betrothal period between teenagers could only be broken by divorce (even though the couple wasn’t officially married yet).
So, when the Bible explains that “Mary had been betrothed to Joseph,” it means they were already in the legally binding stage of their relationship when “she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18b).
Let’s pause there.
Most of the time, I think about the way Jesus was conceived and immediately start sympathizing with Mary. This birth seems scary and shameful. She was only fourteen. She was supposed to marry another man, and she was supposed to be a virgin. How would she explain it to Joseph? How would she explain it to her parents? Her community? Her future in-laws?
And yes, Mary did have incredible courage and faith. God chose her to become Jesus’ mother for a reason. But let’s not forget about Joseph here, because usually, this is about the time he starts to fall out of the narrative.
Joseph was betrothed! He was legally bound to Mary. He was ready for marriage. He was excited and eager.
He is described as a “just man and unwilling to put her [Mary] to shame” (Matt. 1:19).
Once he found out Mary was pregnant, he wasn’t indignant. He wasn’t going to publicly humiliate her or ruin her reputation. He had resolved to divorce her quietly. Remember, breaking off a betrothal meant they had to get divorced.
This is when Joseph truly captures my attention. This is when his character and his faith take center stage. An angel came in a dream and explained the situation. Joseph could have questioned it. He could have divorced Mary. He could have walked away from the situation.
Instead, he responds with immediate obedience.
“When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife” (Matt. 1:24).
If trusting the Lord and continuing his betrothal to Mary wasn’t enough to prove Joseph’s faith, he responds in obedience yet again. He had taken Mary to Bethlehem to register his family for the census. He traveled with his pregnant fiancée (probably not the most peaceful trip) only to find that they were in danger.
“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him’” (Matt. 2:13).
Another dream… another opportunity to obey the Lord.
Joseph could have ignored the warning. He could have thought he knew what was best for his family. He could have let fear dictate his decisions. Here he was, following God’s plan, and King Herod was sending men on a murderous mission.
Joseph responds immediately in waking up and taking Mary and baby Jesus quickly.
"And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt” (Matt 2:14).
Joseph shows his obedience in fleeing to Egypt until Herod died and the threat was over. He didn't question God or think he had all the right answers. He simply trusted and obeyed.
The Lord provided clarity in both Joseph’s personal life and his family’s safety. Next, He would provide clarity for Joseph’s legacy.
“But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus [Herod’s son] was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene” (Matt. 2:19-23).
Once again, Joseph displays immediate obedience. He probably didn’t want his son to be raised in Nazareth. It was not a town with a positive reputation. It was a lowly, obscure place. God completely changed Joseph’s plans. (For more on when God changes your plans, read this post.) God showed His providence in leading Joseph to a new plan.
We don’t read much more of Joseph, but we know Jesus was raised in Nazareth. We know Jesus had humble beginnings and since He was known to be from Nazareth, He would fulfill prophecies and take the position of the servant.
Joseph’s obedience in sticking to his commitment to Mary, raising a family, protecting his loved ones, and moving them to God’s desired location all started Jesus’ life in accordance with God’s plan.
Joseph was a faithful man. His obedience is important because it shows us that we can trade in our potential jealousy, anger, or fear for God’s provision and plan. Just like Joseph, we can surrender our personal life, family, and legacy. We can become immediately obedient.
I'm thankful that God provides the narrative of an earthly father who surrenders his own needs for the needs of his family. Joseph is selfless, courageous, and loving. He is a strong example of a father full of trust in the Lord. I hope we might see the love Joseph had for his family as just a glimpse of the love God has for His children.